Some University of Wyoming faculty members are raising questions about whether its administrators are making transparent decisions, but the administration maintains it is making every effort to that end.
“I would say that we are working hard to implement stronger processes on campus so that things are done consistently using a standard protocol,” UW President Laurie Nichols says in an email.
A Nov. 14 UW news release announced the hiring of David Jewell as associate vice president for budgeting and fiscal planning — a position created to replace three vacant positions in the division of administration.
Jewell most recently worked for Huron Consulting Group, which contracted with UW to assist in developing a new financial system in 2015. During that time, Jewell assisted UW in several projects, including planning and beginning the implementation of WyoCloud, UW’s new cloud-based systems for financial management, human capital management, grants management, budgeting and planning, supply chain management, as well as reporting and analytics, the release states.
Gregg Cawley, a professor in UW’s political science department, sent an email on the UW faculty listserv — a mailing list used for faculty-wide communication — requesting information from the administration regarding Jewell’s hire.
One question about whether Jewell’s hire was a violation of UW’s contract with Huron appeared to be answered with a waiver of the non-solicitation agreement from the original Master Services Agreement. The Master Services Agreement, dated Aug. 7, 2015, outlines the terms of UW’s contract with Huron for the development of a new financial system for the university. The non-solicitation portion prohibits UW from recruiting or employing any current employees during the time of the agreement.
Vice President for Administration Bill Mai provided the Laramie Boomerang with a copy of the Master Services Agreement and a waiver provided by an associate general counsel to Huron, which allowed for the hiring of Jewell.
“Since we are committed to the long term success of the (u)niversity and a continued relationship with you, Huron (h)as agreed to a limited waiver of our General Business Terms to allow the University of Wyoming to hire David Jewell as an employee of the (u)niversity,” the waiver states.
Cawley also called for an explanation regarding Mai’s statement in the November news release that Jewell’s “familiarity with the university was not the reason he was hired.”
UW is currently preparing to take on its fiscal year 2018 budget where it’s looking to find an additional $10 million in reductions on top of more than $19 million realized for fiscal year 2017. At the same time, UW is working with Huron Consulting to replace the university’s out-of-date financial system that creates problems in accounting for financial data. An administrator key to the budget and implementation of the new fiscal systems left the university in August, Mai says in an email. Mai confirmed the administrator who left UW is Arley Williams, former associate vice president for budget and institutional analysis.
This put UW in a situation where it needed to find a solution in a short amount of time, Mai says. After conferring with others directly involved in the process, Mai says Jewell surfaced as a potential candidate and was ultimately chosen to the fill a new position.
“We hired David because (he) is qualified because he has been involved with this change effort from the beginning, and because we unexpectedly lost one of our key budget people at the end of August,” he says. “There was a serious business exigency component to the hire, and I am grateful that David agreed to move his family to Laramie to take on this very important, and very complex job, on short notice.”
Any delays in the implementation of its new fiscal system and future budget plans during UW’s current fiscal crisis would have left the university and its leaders in a difficult position, Mai says.
“The exigency results from the fact that we are mid-process in implementing new fiscal systems at UW, and we have reached a point where the budget components of that system have to be established in time for the next biennial budget cycle, which begins in earnest in about (three) months,” Mai says. “It has been part of the plan for the last couple of years, or more, and a delay in implementation will harm our ability to move the university forward in this critical area.”
But with UW looking to eliminate more faculty and staff positions in coming months — it could lose as many as 400 positions in 2017 — Cawley said he questions whether it’s wise to hire administrators.
“I don’t know what the salary is here, but I’m betting the position is going to make more than $20,000 per year,” Cawley said.
Jewell’s salary would total $160,000 annually with standard benefits, Mai says in an email. Williams’ annual salary was $146,412. Another two open administrative positions would not be filled as a result of Jewell’s hire, according to the Nov. 14 news release.
The expedited hiring process also doesn’t hold the administration to the same standard as other departments and units on campus, he said.
“We have to go through a fairly elaborate bureaucratic process, where we advertise the position, solicit nominations, et cetera,” Cawley said. “In this case, none of that happened. … Quite frankly, I find it hard to believe that one position is that critical to the university.”
Cawley said he still has concerns about whether UW’s contract with Huron — expected to total around $30 million when the project is complete — would be adjusted with Jewell’s shifting of positions. Additionally, he said many at UW would like to know whether a “poaching fee” was paid to Huron to allow for Jewell’s hire.
Mai says in an email that no fee was paid to Huron to allow for Jewell’s hire, and the contract with Huron has not been adjusted as a result of the hire at this point.
“The billing will no longer have David’s charges in it, but it is to be determined as to whether and how much similar services will be included in the actual billing,” Mai says. “Obviously, we’d like to minimize that.”
A Huron representative says in an email the waiver allowing for Jewell’s hire by UW “represents the extent of our comment on the matter.”
Ultimately, Mai says the proper processes were followed in Jewell’s hire. As UW attempts to navigate the fiscal crisis, he says the need for someone to fill the role came at a critical time.
“This resulted in what is known around here as a ‘business necessity’ or ‘exigency’ hiring process,” Mai says in an email. “Make no mistake, we followed that exigency process. The hire went through the (human resources) processes, and was ultimately approved by the president and vetted with the trustees.”
Nichols has continually stressed a commitment to transparency in administrative decision-making since arriving on campus this summer. Cawley said he thinks Nichols is staying true to that promise, as evidenced by Nichols’ response to his Listserv email.
“On the original email I sent out on the Faculty Listserv, I copied President Nichols,” Cawley said. “What happened is a few days later, I got an email from the president saying she’d ask Bill (Mai) to respond to the questions I raised. Then I got a response from Bill very quickly. The fact that the president copied me and Bill on the email she sent me — I mean, clearly there’s room for speculation — but it looks like if the president hadn’t stepped in and asked him to respond, he wouldn’t have responded.”
Cawley said he thinks there are two different mindsets within UW’s administration when it comes to transparency. Mai was hired in 2013 under former President Bob Sternberg, who was plagued with accusations that his administration lacked transparency before prematurely leaving UW after only 137 days in office. Cawley said he thinks Nichols commitment to openness in administrative decision making is on the level, but questions whether Mai is on the same page.
“The hiring of President Nichols represents a regime change at the university in which the new administration is committed to greater transparency in the decision process,” Cawley says in an email. “However, there are administrators at the university, like (Vice President) Mai, who were part of the old regime which was less concerned about transparency. In consequence, they are going through an adjustment period as they learn how to be more open with the university community.”
Nichols says in an email she doesn’t see a disconnect between herself and others in the administration when it comes to transparency and continues to believe in leading UW in a way that “values shared governance and is as transparent as possible.”
Though Nichols emphasized it’s a continuing effort standardizing protocols and processes at UW, she says in an email she thinks everyone in the administration is on the same page when it comes to transparency.
“I would say that with both myself and Provost (Kate) Miller being new, we are learning together,” she says. “As you can imagine, when there is a change in leadership, processes and philosophies often change. To some extent, it does take those who are here to acclimate and learn to work with a new president. While I believe we are doing well, we are in the acclimation process.”